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Ellwood v. City of Chicago

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

March 6, 2014

LAUREN ELLWOOD, Special Administrator of the Estate of Steven M. Dick, Deceased, Plaintiff,


JOAN B. GOTTSCHALL, District Judge.

On April 25, 2008, Chicago police officers arrested Steven M. Dick following an investigation into a series of disturbing letters that the police had received threatening an imminent shooting at a local elementary school. The letters threatened retribution for the police's shooting of a wild cougar, which had taken place in Mr. Dick's backyard. The police suspected that Mr. Dick was the author of the threatening letters and arrested him the day before the school shooting was supposed to take place. The police did not charge Mr. Dick with any offenses related to the threatening letters, however, and instead charged him with possessing unregistered weapons and with assault. These charges against Mr. Dick were eventually dropped, and, six years later, another man pleaded guilty to sending the letters.

Mr. Dick sued the City of Chicago and the police officers involved in his arrest, alleging false arrest, involuntary commitment, illegal search, a failure to train, and conspiracy under 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983, as well as various state-law claims. Mr. Dick has since passed away, and his sister, Lauren Ellwood (the "Plaintiff"), has taken over this litigation as the special administrator of Mr. Dick's estate. Defendants now move for summary judgment on all claims. As explained below, the court finds that the undisputed facts demonstrate that the police acted reasonably in arresting Mr. Dick and taking him to the hospital after he bonded out of police custody. For this reason, Defendants are entitled to summary judgment on the false arrest and involuntary commitment claims. The court also finds that Defendants are entitled to summary judgment on Plaintiff's illegal search, failure-to-train, and conspiracy claims. The court denies summary judgment as to the state-law malicious prosecution claim, as the court finds that there was no probable cause to support the offenses with which Mr. Dick was charged.


The following facts are undisputed.

The Cougar in Roscoe Village

On April 14, 2008, Chicago police received several calls reporting a large wild cougar roaming the Roscoe Village neighborhood on the northwest side of the city. The police tracked the cougar to the backyard of Steven M. Dick, who lived with his elderly father, Eddie Dick. When the police arrived at Mr. Dick's residence, they shot and killed the cougar. Mr. Dick witnessed this shooting.

One week later, the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police received a letter from an unknown sender. The letter threatened that police officers would be shot as retribution for the killing of the cougar. It stated:

Dear Cougar Killers (aka. Chicago PIG Police)
Prepare to DIE like the Cougar you killed. On May 4th at your St. Jude Memorial March several PIGS will be shot by snipers.
Mayor Daley: Fuck your father Richard J, Fuck your mother "SIS", fuck your son in Iraq and FUCK YOUR DEAD CHILD.
Burn down the Daley house in Michigan.
Kill any Police Officer, where ever they are found, like they killed the Cougar.... Shame on ALL Police PIGS.

(Defs.' SOF Ex. 13 (CFOP Letter), ECF No. 111-15.)

Around the same time that this letter was sent to the Fraternal Order of Police, similar letters were sent to the Chicago Police Department and St. Xavier University. The letter sent to the police celebrated the recent death of an officer and threatened to shoot students at a local elementary school. It stated:

On February 12th 2007 off duty CPD Officer Jose Vasquez was shot to death.... GOOD we are GLAD he is DEAD....
I hope this spic suffered and was shot just like CHICAGO PIGS shot the Cougar.
Jody P. Weis (A FUCKING JEW?????????????) Too bad Hitler didn't gas your jew family.
Now a student at Audubon Gramm[a]r School will have to be SHOT DEAD like the CHICAGO PIGS shot the Cougar....
KILL A COP like they killed the cougar.
KILL Jody P. Weis.
Kill and laugh at all dead cops.
May 4th St. Jude March: snipers on roof tops will shoot a cop
June 1 Family Fun Fair at Audubon school: shoot a kid and poison everyone.

April 26 at Audubon school silent auction: the SOUND of GUN FIRE.

( Id. Ex. 15 (CPD Letter), ECF No. 111-17.) The letter to St. Xavier contained similar threats, including, "Kill any Police Officer, where ever they are found, like they killed the Cougar. ST. XAVIER MASCOT IS A COUGAR." ( Id. Ex. 14 (St. Xavier Letter), ECF No. 111-16.)

The Investigation into the Letters

Heather Collins volunteered as an art instructor at Audubon Elementary School and was Mr. Dick's neighbor. After she heard on television about the letter threatening students at the school, she called the school's principal, John Price. She asked Mr. Price about the contents of the letter. Mr. Price told Ms. Collins that the letter referred to "police pigs" and Nazis. He told her that the author of the letter threatened the lives of children and expressed anger about the cougar shooting. Ms. Collins then told Mr. Price that she suspected that her neighbor-Steven Dick-had written the letter because she had heard Mr. Dick use language that was similar to the language contained in the letter. Mr. Price contacted the police detective assigned to the case, Demetrious Kolliopoulos, and told him that Ms. Collins suspected that her neighbor had written the letter.

Detective Kolliopoulos then contacted Ms. Collins on April 24, 2008. She confirmed to the detective that she suspected that her neighbor, Steven Dick, had written the letter because of similarities between the language in the letters and language that Mr. Dick had used in conversations with her and several neighbors. For example, neighbors had told Ms. Collins that Mr. Dick would speak about Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan. Ms. Collins had heard Mr. Dick make racist remarks about African-Americans. She heard Mr. Dick threaten children in the neighborhood. She had seen him wearing military fatigues and waiving around a machete in his backyard. He had boarded the windows to his apartment and installed a surveillance camera in front of his residence. She had ...

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